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RKL’s new IT director reflects on speaking up, evolving tech field

Pamela Mahoney - (Photo / Submitted)

Pamela Mahoney’s a-ha moment presented itself as a monotonous office task.

It was around September 2000. Working as an executive assistant to an insurance company’s regional vice president, Mahoney realized emptying her boss’ paper tray wasn’t enough for her. She wanted a challenge.

“You reach a point where you’re like, ‘There’s gotta be more,'” she said.

And there was.

At the time, typewriters, carbon paper and whiteout were still staples in offices, but computers had just started to revolutionize the workplace. Her interest piqued by the emerging technology, Mahoney thought, “Hey, I can do this.”

Today Mahoney has more than 15 years of information technology experience, and she was recently named director of IT for Reinsel Kuntz Lesher LLP (RKL), Certified Public Accountants and Consultants. While the stereotype of men dominating the IT field exists, Mahoney feels that just as technology has expanded and diversified so too have the people who make up the workforce.

“When you look at some of the women that have been running the tech companies – HP, Compaq – we definitely as women have progressed,” she said.

‘It wasn’t all just gamers and tech geeks’

Mahoney, in a way, followed in her father’s footsteps. He was a systems analyst for Allied Chemical & Dye Corp., now known as Honeywell, at a time when computers were just being introduced.

“What we have now inside our phone is what used to take up an entire room,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney’s mother inspired her, too. She taught Mahoney and her five siblings to never settle, to look back on their lives and feel they accomplished something.

A natural curiosity drove Mahoney to explore a career in computers. At the time, companies were really looking for people simply interested in diving into computer technology.

“It wasn’t all just gamers and tech geeks at the time,” Mahoney said.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in management of information services from Eastern University.

As Mahoney delved into the fast-changing world of computers, her mother acknowledged how she was working to live on her own and get an education by sending her some money. Mahoney used it to go to a computer-related convention.

“I basically went in and bought the workings of a computer, and I built my own,” she said. “That’s kind of what motivated me also, and showed me that I had that natural interest in computers. My mom basically got me started on it.”

Just before finishing her schooling, the company Mahoney worked for folded, making it the perfect time to change careers. She landed her first tech job at a reinsurance company in Philadelphia, working as a help-desk assistant.

Acknowledgement and speaking up

Though the field was male-dominated back then, Mahoney’s first manager was a woman. Mahoney looked to her as an ally, someone she knew would acknowledge her voice. She had her back.

“She really motivated me,” she said. “That’s what always really matters in the world of IT, is reaching out and making sure there’s that connection and support.”

One time, the company’s mail server went down, taking out the integrated phone system for which Mahoney was responsible. She wasn’t there when staff tried to restore the system using backups, but the vice president of the department took a quick look at the backups and accused Mahoney of not running the daily backups, she said.

“He had really ripped into me,” she said. “Initially I believed him, and I felt horrible because the phone system was down a long time. My female supervisor didn’t drop the issue and she kept looking at the data and she realized he was looking at the wrong dates. She showed me the disks and that the data was current and he was wrong.”

Mahoney went back into the man’s office and showed him he was incorrect.

“His only response to me was, ‘It doesn’t matter,’ but it mattered to me, and I was glad I spoke up.”

Acknowledgement, like the acknowledgement Mahoney’s supervisor provided , is important in the workplace, especially in day-to-day operations, whether it’s in meetings or on conference calls, she said. Women have to use those opportunities to speak up, she said. You never want to walk away from a meeting thinking, “Oh, I wish I had said that,” she said.

“We have a tendency to, especially in conference environments to just kind of sit in the back and take it in,” she said. If you think you know the answer, say it, she said.

“My biggest thing, especially in the world of IT, is we don’t learn if we always know the answer. Sometimes it helps to not know the answer and learn the right one or the wrong one.”

“That’s a lot of what we need to get young girls to be more comfortable in doing,” she said. “So what if what you said is wrong? You’ve learned from it. That should be the takeaway.”

“Just make sure you’ve contributed,” she said. “Walk away and know you said something, instead of walking away and saying, ‘I wish I had.'”

Evolution of tech

Just like the makeup of the IT field isn’t the same as it was when Mahoney launched her career, technology and its integration in society have expanded as well. Today children can be found swiping away on smartphones or working on iPads. Educational applications have helped homeschooling explode, she said.

“Before it was parents and books,” she said. “Now it’s more online classes and teachers. You see the benefits every day of how it’s evolved.”

That evolution has helped to get girls interested in technology at a younger age, Mahoney said. Exposure is key, and it’s important to show them the careers that are available.

“It goes beyond just computers,” she said. “There are a lot of different avenues for people to pursue.”

 

‘You can go for anything’

Mahoney advises young girls and women who may be interested in the tech field to just go for it. Don’t be afraid.

“It’s no longer a male-dominated industry, when you look at some of the women that have been CEOs of some really big companies,” she said. “Really go for it. There’s just so much technology out there, between Google, Uber and Facebook – it’s not all about boring, old programming stuff that we used to do. There’s some phenomenal technology out there.”

The beauty in starting out in a career is that you can try different things, she said, “and if it doesn’t work out, pick something else.” Adults should educate young women on what’s out there career-wise, give them insight on the paths they can take.

“We’re looking at possibly the first female president,” she said. “That’s phenomenal. We’ve reached that point. Compared to the rest of the world, I think that’s pretty amazing. The fact that we’re looking at the possibility of it finally sends the message to a lot of young women that you can go for anything.”

Nicole Chynoweth
Nicole Chynoweth is the web editor for Central Penn Business Journal. Email her at [email protected].

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